Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

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Working In These TimesThe Strike Against General Motors Is One Front in a Much Larger Class War

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Nearly 50,000 General Motors (GM) auto workers left their posts and marched off the job en masse late Sunday night. Since then, it’s been all able bodies to the picket line. The strike is on.

With negotiations between GM and the United Automobile Workers (UAW) leadership hitting an impasse, the 2015 GM collective bargaining agreement expired at midnight on September 15. The UAW officially announced the strike after local union leaders from around the country convened on Sunday morning. The ensuing images of workers (including a coauthor of this article) hitting picket lines this week glow with an electric air of worker solidarity. From afar, one gets the sense of an undivided union showing its strength—united in the fight from top to bottom. But the view from the pavement tells a very different story.

Far from a unified front, the largest strike against GM in over a decade reveals something that everyone sitting at the bargaining table in Detroit knows and fears: The divide between the UAW leadership and the rank and file has never been wider. Much of this has to do with revelations from an FBI corruption probe implicating former and current union officials in alleged misdeeds, including rampantly misappropriating union funds and abusing the trust of their members. With news that even current UAW President Gary Jones is being investigated for corruption, anger and frustration among workers is palpable. And their feelings towards GM executives aren’t any rosier.

Workers have watched GM haul in major profits after having been bailed out by the public (to the tune of $11.2 billion) during the Great Recession—and kept afloat by the sacrifices its own employees agreed to make. Among those sacrifices was the introduction of a tiered wage system, which allowed GM to bring in more low-wage and temporary workers to do the same jobs for a lot less money. An ostensibly temporary fix that GM has more or less made permanent, this tiered system sows divisions on the shop floor, and UAW members want it gone.

Workers accepted these and other belt-tightening measures when the chips were down. But with GM generating a combined profit of $35 billion in North America over the past three years, it’s clear that the belt remains noose-locked around the rank and file while the engorged bellies and bank accounts of GM executives continue their unconstrained expansion. And after seeing these profits and their own sacrifices rewarded with plant closures and mass layoffs, workers are rightfully pissed.

Ask any long-term worker on the picket line and they will tell you just how vividly they remember what they had to give up to keep GM out of bankruptcy a decade ago—and how painfully aware they are of GM’s refusal to appreciate and adequately repay them for it. They haven’t forgotten, and they’re prepared for a long fight. Both GM and the UAW leadership have to know that they are sitting on top of a powder keg.

The rank and file tell the truth, and the truth is that this strike is decades in the making. The truth is that, like our fellow workers around the country and around the world, auto workers have had so much more taken from them over the past half century than they could ever hope to claw back in any collective bargaining agreement. And the truth is that what has been lost can only be taken back by the force of a democratic rank-and-file movement—a movement that refuses to be co-opted by the owning class the way the out-of-touch union hierarchies allowed themselves to be co-opted.

Day in, day out, we sweat and grind under the heavy sun of labor’s lost dreams: the dream of working to live, not living to work; the dream of workers having greater ownership over our workplaces, and having more of a say in what our economy produces and how; the dream of workers, not owners, actually being the ones who profit from our hard work; the dream of universal, guaranteed employment; the dream of necessities like healthcare being institutionalized as basic rights so that one’s employer could never have the grossly unjust power to take them away. A rank-and-file movement can and must re-ignite these dreams, and it must do so while recognizing and avoiding the pitfalls labor fell into before.

A strike against GM is one battle in a much larger class war waged against working people by the owners of society. To quote Walter Reuther, “There’s a direct relationship between the ballot box and the bread box, and what the union fights for and wins at the bargaining table can be taken away in the legislative halls.”

The bigger the bargaining unit, the more power we have. And the ravages multinational corporations like GM wreak upon our communities can only be fought with international worker solidarity.

In the past we were unified by geography. Companies like GM would envelope an entire city. With workers living so close to one another they could develop a culture of solidarity that bound them together. Now the workforce is global, split up over invisible lines in the dirt, caged within imagined national communities that are held together by guns, walls and bureaucracies. If our goal is to regain the power we once had, the power that gave birth to the labor movement in the first place, we need to broaden our vision, we need to see the global class struggle for what it is, and we need to act accordingly.

Unionism in one country is no match for capitalism in every country. We can’t just focus on one industry, one nation, or one job classification. We need to unify with our fellow workers across borders in a collective effort to win back what’s ours, the fruits of our labor.

This article originally appeared on Inthesetimes.com on September 19, 2019.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sean Crawford is a member of United Auto Workers and Democratic Socialists of America and a worker at the Flint Truck Assembly.</.P Maximillian Alvarez is a dual-PhD candidate at the University of Michigan. His writing has been featured in The Baffler, Boston Review, Current Affairs, Truthout, etc. He is the host of Working People, “a podcast by, for, and about the working class today.”

49,000 Striking Auto Workers Should Vote No on “Two-Tier.” Here’s Why.

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

Image result for jane slaughter writerAuto workers on strike since midnight at General Motors are between a rock and a hard place—a hugely profitable company making outrageous demands for concessions and a union leadership that made no plan for winning a strike and has not even told members what they’re going out for. Picket signs say simply “UAW on Strike.”

Over the last decades many other unions have taught themselves how to do contract campaigns and strikes, with members on board from the get-go. But to look at the UAW’s confrontation with GM this week, you’d think none of that experience had ever happened.

Not a button was distributed in the plants. Members heard not a word from leaders about bargaining goals. There was no survey of the membership, no contract action teams, no bargaining bulletins to keep members in the loop. No “practice picketing,” no turn-down of overtime, no outreach to the public, no open bargaining.

As they have for decades, UAW officials played their cards close to the vest, with only management allowed a peek. Members knew only what they read in the media, explained materials handler Sean Crawford in Flint.

And yet 49,000 UAW members are angry enough with GM’s arrogance and downright oppression that they are ready to strike.

BIG CONCESSIONS DEMANDED

Local 598 in Flint broke the embargo when it reported that GM wants members to pay more for health insurance and is offering a less-than-inflation raise. Worse, it wants no movement on its odious tiered system that has flooded the plants with lower-paid outside contractors, a subsidiary called GM Subsystems, and temps—GM employees with no rights.

Beth Baryo, a former temp and now an “in progression” (second-tier) worker in Burton, Michigan, said that temps are allowed to miss only three days of work per year, unpaid, with advance approval, and can be forced to work seven-day weeks.

At the GM Tech Center where she works, outside Detroit, said Jessie Kelly, there are 1,300 workers employed by GM and 550 employed by Aramark, doing work that used to be GM workers’.

GM was bailed out by taxpayers to the tune of $50 billion in 2009. It made over $8 billion in profits last year, while paying no federal income taxes yet gifting CEO Mary Barra $22 million. For GM to demand concessions from its overworked employees now is a sign that it thinks the UAW is an easy foe.

After all, UAW President Gary Jones may be distracted. His house and that of former President Dennis Williams were both searched by the FBI August 28. Jones’ top lieutenant before he became president, Vance Pearson, was charged with using union funds for personal luxuries, and it’s widely believed that Jones and Williams will be next. Pearson was the sixth UAW official to be recently charged or convicted of graft.

Crawford said as the strike kicked off, “Yes, the UAW is corrupt. It’s disgusting beyond belief. But this is not about them. It’s about us. We can and will clean house. But we have a more immediate fight on our hands right now.”

Kelly too wanted to rally the troops against GM: “If somebody in the union abused their power, their future is already set out for them. Ours is not, ours is up in the air. All we can do is be there for each other because if we lose sight… GM will win because we were focusing on the wrong fight right now.”

Mitch Fox, now at Romulus Engine, his third GM plant after shutdowns and layoffs, is sickened by the corruption. He hopes leaders’ disrepute could be a motive for the strike: “With everything that’s going on, maybe they’ll try harder to gain our respect back; hopefully that’s the plan.”

But if past contracts are an indication, the pact Jones negotiates is sure to be weak.

YOU CAN VOTE NO

With top leaders discredited but refusing to step away, GM strikers have just one tool to use between their rock and their hard place: their right to vote no. They can do what Chrysler workers did in 2015: organize to turn down a contract that enshrined the two-tier system.

In 2015 rank-and-file Chrysler workers, with no union support, made leaflets and T-shirts, created Facebook groups to share their stories, and rallied outside informational meetings.

They did what no one thought possible in the UAW and voted Williams’s offer down 2-1, overcoming his defiant declaration that “ending two-tier is bullshit!” and winning a partial victory. The offer was improved, establishing a grow-in for second-tier workers to full pay (though still without pensions or the same health care plan).

Soon after the Chrysler vote, perhaps emboldened by the “no” vote at Chrysler, GM skilled trades workers rejected their pact as well, by almost 60 percent, winning some improvements. (Production workers voted yes by 58 percent.)

In 2015 what the automakers did with one hand they took away with another, though—a less-noticed provision also increased the use of temps.

“I’m voting no on any contract proposal that doesn’t give a pathway to equality for every GM/ UAW member,” said Crawford. “This is a sacred principle. It is the very meaning of the word union. This opportunity might not come again.”

This story first appeared at Labor Notes.

This article originally appeared on Inthesetimes.com on September 17, 2019.  Reprinted with permission.

Jane Slaughter is the author of Concessions and How To Beat Them and co-author, with Mike Parker, of Choosing Sides: Unions and the Team Concept and Working Smart: A Union Guide to Participation Programs and Reengineering. Her work has appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, and Monthly Review, among others. Jane Slaughter  works for Labor Notes in Detroit.

UAW workers stay on strike in 'battle for the middle class'

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

More than 45,000 workers remain on strike against General Motors after contract negotiations broke down between the company and the UAW. GM has cut off health insurance coverage for striking workers, while details of the two sides’ proposals remain scant. But the broad strokes are clear: As one worker told CNN, it’s a “battle for the middle class.”

GM has made a public relations push claiming it promised $7 billion in investment and 5,000 jobs, but the UAW’s lead negotiator said GM’s first serious offer came just hours before the deadline, too late to avert a strike. According to one UAW local, GM’s pay offer fell short of inflation, while workers’ healthcare costs would have increased. “Two percent is nothing,” a local union leader familiar with the offer told the Detroit Free Press. ”We have not gained back anything we gave up during the bankruptcy.”

That’s a critical point: GM workers made concessions in 2009 to help save the company from bankruptcy, but while GM’s profits were $8.1 billion last year, workers are still stuck with the two-tier system that pays new hires substantially lower wages, and many jobs have been turned over to temporary workers who are treated even worse. Meanwhile, workers point out, the 2015 contract between GM and the UAW prohibited plant closures, but GM went ahead and closed plants anyway, simply using a different terminology—instead of being closed or idled, the plans are “unallocated.” Seeing that, workers were ready. “We have been preparing for over a year because we knew that General Motors wasn’t going to budge from their position too much,” one 45-year GM employee told The Detroit News.

Other unions from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees to the Communications Workers of America and politicians like Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez continue to come out in support of the striking workers.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on September 17, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.. Laura at Daily Kos

UAW workers strike against GM as contract negotiations stall

Monday, September 16th, 2019

UAW workers at General Motors are on strike for the first time since 2007. The 49,000 UAW workers at GM went out on strike at midnight Sunday after their contract expired with workers and management far apart in negotiations. Contracts are bargained every four years, with no work stoppages in 2011 or 2015 and the 2007 strike lasting just two days.

UAW leaders pointed back to 2009, when GM faced bankruptcy and workers made significant concessions to help the company bounce back. “We stood up for General Motors when they needed us most,” said Terry Dittes, a UAW vice president and top negotiator. “Now we are standing together in unity and solidarity for our Members, their families and the communities where we work and live.”

Now that GM is profitable again—pulling in $8.1 billion in profits last year—the UAW is pressing to improve wages, including narrowing the gap between longtime workers and those hired more recently at lower pay; reopening idled plants in places like Lordstown, Ohio; putting temporary workers on a path to permanent jobs; and maintaining affordable health care in an industry that takes a toll on workers’ bodies.

“If somebody prays, I ask that they pray for us. Or just send us good vibes,” Flint Chevrolet worker Dominique Birdsong told the Detroit Free Press. “I’m not scared, I’m hopeful. Because we’re determined. We will rally together for the middle class.”

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on September 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.. Laura at Daily Kos

GM poured billions into stock buybacks then closed plants

Monday, March 25th, 2019

Donald Trump is blaming the UAW for General Motors’ Lordstown, Ohio, plant closing. A Republican blaming a union for a massive company’s actions is not so surprising, but Trump is claiming that union dues are responsible, which is both strange and ignorant. Union dues are paid by workers to their union; they don’t come from the company. But a new report from Hedge Clippers and the American Federation of Teachers offers a better idea of who to blame for the Lordstown plant closing.

And guess what! GM, the company that decided to close the plant, says it needs to make $4.5 billion in cuts—through layoffs and plant closings—to survive. But “GM has given over five times as much money—$25 billion—to Wall Street hedge funds and other investors in the past four years, including over $10 billion in controversial stock buybacks.”

So, yeah. GM has money for stock buybacks, but not to keep its plants open and its workers employed.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on March 23, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

General Motors To Offer Benefits To All Its Married Workers

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

Laura ClawsonGeneral Motors is basically following the Obama administration’s lead and extending marriage benefits to all of its workers in legal same-sex marriages, even those who live in states without marriage equality:

“This decision is in line with GM’s efforts to find, keep and grow the world’s best talent and to offer our employees policies and benefits that are competitive with many of the largest and best-managed industrial companies in the U.S.,” said GM’s Chief Diversity Officer Ken Barrett in a statement sent to The Huffington Post.The changes will include pension plans, savings plans and health care plans for legally married same-sex couples.

To qualify, couples do have to have been married in one of the 14 and soon to be 15 states that have instituted marriage equality, meaning some couples will have to travel significant distances to get married. On the other hand, the cost of the trip will be offset by the benefits GM is now offering. The move is especially significant given that GM’s plants are overwhelmingly located in states like Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana that have explicitly banned same-sex marriage.

This article was originally printed on Daily Kos Labor on November 6, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at Daily Kos.

2010 Vehicles Built By Union Members In The United States and Canada

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Support union jobs in the U.S. and Canada

This guide is prepared by the UAW to provide information for consumers who want to purchase vehicles produced by workers who enjoy the benefits and protections of a union contract.

All these vehicles are made in the United States or Canada by members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) or Canadian Auto Workers (CAW).

Because of the integration of U.S. and Canadian vehicle production, all these vehicles include significant UAW-made content and support the jobs of UAW members.

However, the vehicles marked with a single asterisk (*) are produced in the United States and another country. Light-duty (LD) crew cab models of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, marked with a double asterisk (**), are only manufactured in Mexico. Other models are made in the United States.

When purchasing one of these vehicles, check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

A VIN beginning with “1”, “4” or “5” identifies a U.S.-made vehicle; “‘2:’ identifies a Canadian-made vehicle.

Not all vehicles made in the United States or Canada are built by union-represented workers.  Vehicles not listed here, even if produced in the United States or Canada, are not union-made vehicles.

UAW CARS
Buick Lacrosse
Buick Lucerne
Cadillac CTS
Cadillac DTS
Cadillac STS
Chevrolet Cobalt
Chevrolet Corvette
Chevrolet Cruze
Chevrolet Malibu
Chrysler Sebring
Dodge Avenger
Dodge Caliber
Dodge Viper
Ford Focus
Ford Mustang
Ford Taurus
Lincoln MKS
Mazda6
Mitsubishi Eclipse
Mitsubishi Galant
Pontiac G6
Pontiac Vibe
Saturn Aura
Toyota Corolla*

UAW PICKUPS
Chevrolet Colorado
Chevrolet Silverado**
Dodge Dakota
Dodge Ram Pickup*
Ford F Series
Ford Ranger
GMC Canyon
GMC Sierra**
Mazda B-series
Toyota Tacoma*

UAW SUVs/CUVs
Buick Enclave
Cadillac Escalade ESV
Cadillac Escalade/Hybrid
Chevrolet Suburban
Chevrolet Traverse
Dodge Nitro
Ford Escape/Hybrid
Ford Expedition
Ford Explorer
Ford Explorer Sport Trac
GMC Acadia
GMC Tahoe/Hybrid
GMC Yukon/Hybrid
GMC Yukon XL
H2 Hummer
H3 Hummer
Jeep Commander
Jeep Compass
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Jeep Liberty
Jeep Patriot
Jeep Wrangler
Lincoln Navigator
Mazda Tribute/Hybrid
Mercury Mariner/Hybrid
Mercury Mountaineer
Mitsubishi Endeavor
Saturn Outlook

UAW VANS
Chevrolet Express
Ford Econoline
GMC Savana

CAW CARS
Chevrolet Camaro
Chevrolet Impala
Chrysler 300
Dodge Challenger
Dodge Charger
Ford Crown Victoria
Lincoln Town Car
Mercury Grand Marquis

CAW SUVs/CUVs
Chevrolet Equinox
Ford Edge
Ford Flex
GMC Terrain
Lincoln MKT
Lincoln MKX
Pontiac Torrent

UAW/CAW Vans
Chrysler Town & Country
Dodge Grand Caravan
VW Routan

* The vehicles marked with a single asterisk (*) are produced in the United States and another country.

** The light-duty (LD) crew cab versions of the vehicles marked with a double asterisk (**) are only manufactured in Mexico. Other models are made in the United States.

About the Author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

This article originally appeared in UnionReview.com on September 18, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

Michael Steele and the Demise of Working America

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Back in April 2009, GOP chairman Michael Steele appeared as a guest on a republican-oriented talk radio show. A caller to the program voiced his opinion and stated he did not believe the U.S. is in a state of economic crisis. Steele laughed in agreement and claimed that “[t]he malls are just as packed on Saturday.”

San Rafael, California is located 20 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge along U.S. Highway 101. With a population of approximately 50,000, it retains the flavor of a small town without sacrificing any of the amenities you’ll find in the most sophisticated of communities.

Nearly every week for the last six months, as I drive along “Mainstreet” on my way to work, I’ve noticed a new storefront that has gone vacant. These are not the vacant addresses that once housed “Old Navy” or “The House of Knives;” and 4th Avenue is not a strip mall. These were shops and boutiques that operated and prospered for the last 20 or more years by catering to the desires and whims of what had been one of the most prosperous communities in the nation. But ever since the mask was removed from Bush’s depression last summer, many of these privileged professionals are finding themselves squeezed financially in the same wringer as the rest of America’s middle class has been for quite some time. As a result, one by one, these shops are falling by the wayside.

The American economy we see today is the end-result of political policies that have been transforming American society for the past 30 years. Based on slogans such as privatization, de-regulation, free trade, out-sourcing, “conservatism,” tax reform, and right to work, legislators have been giving American business what it wants since the days of President Regan. They have turned this country into a place that no longer resembles the country it was when I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

San Rafael, CA is a long way from Flint, Michigan, the town where I grew up.

Flint was never a place that you would mistake as being a center of sophisticated culture. It had always been a blue-collar town. But in its own way, it had once been a pretty prosperous place. Flint was probably the first urban center in America to feel the crunch created by those economic and business policies that destroyed industrial America. You could say that Flint had been America’s canary in a cage, because that town began dying in the 1970’s.

Type the words “Flint Michigan” into your browser or into the search bar over at You Tube. Take a look at what conservatism has done to America. Flint residents living next door to an abandoned property are now able to purchase that property for $1.00. The city will come in, demolish and remove any existing building on that property and fill in the holes. Thereafter, the new owner only needs to keep the property looking presentable. Another strategy being used is to provide incentives for residents in out-lying areas of the city to move in closer to the city center, so that city services can be discontinued to the abandoned areas.

In the wake of the policies listed above, community after community across America have been pushed over the brink of the same slippery slope as Flint, Michigan was abandoned to years ago when business (General Motors) moved out. Michael Steele’s words prove he remains as ignorant of where America stands today as John McCain was during his failed presidential bid, and Steele’s words are just as irrelevant as is the Republican party. The trouble is, that leaves America with only one other political party. From the looks of it, the Democrats have been cowed for so long by their minority status that following their return to a leadership position, they immediately bowed the knee to the masters of corporate Amerika. That being the case, I can’t see how we’ll ever emerge from the wreckage that’s been left behind.

The Fall of General Motors and the Three Paths to the Middle Class

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

For decades, unionized manufacturing jobs have been considered the surest path to middle-class prosperity and realizing the vaunted dream for blue-collar workers,” writes Nick Carey in an eloquent analysis for Reuters. Yet today General Motors is in bankruptcy and the United Auto Workers has made a series of painful cutbacks from wages for future workers to retiree benefits to waiving the right to strike. That’s before we even get to the job cuts.

As Robert Reich points out in the Financial Times, “middle-class jobs that do not need a college degree are disappearing.” In the 1950s, high-wage GM was the nation’s largest employer and it supported car dealerships and parts suppliers many of which also provided a middle-class standard of living. Today, the biggest employer is low-wage, meager benefit Wal-Mart, squeezing its supply chain to provide similarly inadequate jobs. As GM and other islands of blue-collar prosperity succumb to the economic tide, we are left with a model that does not support a mass middle class.

Yet it is unacceptable to give up on the idea of job stability, health coverage, retirement security and wages that can support a family for the majority of Americans. So, after the dramatic retrenchment of the American auto industry, how do millions of Americans get to the middle class? And what policies can we pursue to help them get there?

It’s hard to see any single sector of the economy offering a way forward in the long term. Green jobs are great, but they alone won’t be enough to sustain a mass middle class. Jobs for college-educated workers are already amongst the highest quality positions out there. But no matter how accessible we make higher education, there is no future scenario in which every job in America requires a college degree. No matter what, we are left with those burger-flipping, shelf-stocking, grass-cutting, retail-counter positions in the service industry. Except that those jobs don’t have to be the low-wage, low benefits positions that make up today’s Wal-Mart economy. Just as it was unions that made the original GM jobs into what is today the last faltering bastion of the middle class, unionization could also make the service industry into another viable path to a middle-class standard of living.

In fact, both unionization and education are critical components of all three paths to the middle class. A revitalized manufacturing sector, exemplified by the enthusiasm for green jobs, will require skills training and union-level wages to produce genuinely middle-class employment. College education must be made more affordable and accessible to all Americans, yet the opportunity to organize and bargain collectively is also needed to ensure that professional employees don’t see their own working conditions degrade. Finally, the service sector jobs that so urgently need a union boost to wages and benefits would also benefit from education and training that can provide genuine career ladders.

GM may be a shadow of it’s former self for a long time to come, but if we can accomplish the overhaul of labor law and make the substantial public investment in education we need, the nation’s middle class doesn’t have to fail along with it.

About the Author: Amy Traub is the Director of Research at the Drum Major Institute. A native of the Cleveland area, Amy is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago. She received a graduate fellowship to study political science at Columbia University, where she earned her Masters degree in 2001 and completed coursework towards a Ph.D. Her studies focused on comparative political economy, political theory, and social movements. Funded by a field research grant from the Tinker Foundation, Amy conducted original research in Mexico City, exploring the development of the Mexican student movement. Before coming to the Drum Major Institute, Amy headed the research department of a major New York City labor union, where her efforts contributed to the resolution of strikes and successful union organizing campaigns by hundreds of working New Yorkers. She has also been active on the local political scene working with progressive elected officials. Amy resides in Manhattan Valley with her husband.

This article originally appeared in DMI Blog on June 2, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

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